Her people had been engaging in a civil war of sorts for far too long. Her heart was grieving for the lives being senselessly lost, but even more so for how easily persuaded her people had become. Breaking her heart even more still was that King David, a man once most beloved, had become controversial as his son, Absalom, formed a rebellion against him.
Hatred consumed Absalom for most of his adult life. Since the rape of his sister, Tamar, Absalom never again found peace. He became obsessed with revenge, assuming it would satisfy the fire in his soul. Absalom arranged for the murder of his sister’s rapist, but it could not quench his thirst for destruction. Without realizing it, hatred had consumed his heart to a depth only God could redeem. Precisely what Absalom hated so deeply, no one was quite sure of, not even Absalom himself, but the fruits of his life proved the tumultuous condition of his heart.
With surprising ease Absalom convinced Israel to rebel against his father and force the king out of Jerusalem. David’s heart was broken by his son long ago, but he never stopped loving the child he once held close to his heart. As the king was driven away, the same man previously driven mad with revenge for the rape of his sister chose to have sex where all could see with every one of his father’s concubines who were left behind to care for the palace. Absalom stole the throne by becoming the same evil he once hated. A repulsive act of insult against his father and women was his decided first act as king.
This was the man Israel chose as their king.
The war was not easy for women to endure. With men of all ages being deployed by the thousands, the women were left behind to keep the city running. Mother’s nursed their infant sons wondering if one day this baby would, too, be lost at war. They stared into the deep brown eyes of their children wondering if this child would have the chance to know his or her father, or if they had just said “goodbye” to their husbands for the last time.
Her home was never restful in times of war. With a reputation for wisdom and a deep knowledge of Yahweh, she had visitors all hours of the day. Young boys trying to fill in the gaps of their fathers’ absence; young mothers trying to balance a household and keep their husbands’ businesses profitable. Everyone needs something from her in this time, and she considers it a gift from the Lord to be able to serve His people from her life’s experience. She knows what comes with war, so her patience for visitors is plentiful.
Her wisdom is as deep as her fear of the Lord.
Married at a young age to a man with a gentle spirit, she lived a good life. Her husband used to tell her the tales of war. He had been sent to battle many times, and the battlefield is eventually what left her a widow. From him she learned the ruthless nature of battle, but she understood it with a tender balance of necessity for survival and mercy for the opposition. He recited Scripture to her every night, wrote it over their door frames, and ensured their household deeply loved the Lord.
She knew that not every woman was as fortunate as her to be married to a man of unwavering faith who loved her deeply and took time to teach her. She didn’t just know the ways of managing a household; she knew mathematics, basic reading, and the Torah. She thanked God daily for the way her husband cherished her. He used his privilege as a man to uplift her, not overpower her. He sang her praises at the city gates when he was alive, and in his death she sang the praises of God for all he taught her. He knew his life as a warrior was one that could leave her widowed and he ensured she could manage in his absence.
She wore a widow’s clothes but she lived a wise and plentiful life.
Word was beginning to spread that Absalom was killed by David’s men. Much of the town was unsure how to respond, but she was grieved knowing that no matter the situation, David would be mourning the loss of his son.
Arguments were spreading amongst all of Israel as quickly as the war had begun and ended.
“King David rescued us from our enemies and saved us from the Philistines!”
“But Absalom was the new king.”
“Absalom chased away King David, he never willingly abandoned us.”
“Return King David to the throne!”
“Down with the dynasty of David! We have no interest in the son of Jesse,” chanted Sheba, a man returning home from battle. He blew a rams horn and called whomever would follow to retreat from David back toward the legacy and mission of Absalom.
Sheba was rooted in the tribe of Benjamin; a tribe known for their ferocious nature on the battlefield. Although the tribe of Judah emerged as the leading tribe in Israel, Benjamin’s history in leadership and battle was not forgotten. The men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba.
After gathering a following, Sheba led his men through all the tribes of Israel to the town of Abel-beth-maacah. His arrival to her town was loud and disruptive. While Sheba’s men assembled for battle against the tribe of Judah who was fiercely protecting their David, the rest of the town fled to their homes. It was clear Sheba’s men were planning to make the town a place of hideout. As his clan followed him and passed by her home, she felt a chill. In her heart, she knew who was God’s chosen leader.
“Sheba has chosen a battle he cannot win,” she thought to herself. “Has he not seen the fate of Absalom with his own eyes?”
She knew better than to speak in this moment. While she could not lead a rebellion in the streets, she knew there would soon be people waiting outside her home.
The next few days were fairly quiet, but not in a comforting way. There was the hush of rebellious whispers mixed with an unrest amongst the women; the combination creating tension within the town walls. While women did not have the power to make decisions for the community, many had the intuition to know something evil was stirring.
Her reputation surpassed her societal gender limitations. Since Sheba’s arrival, her home had seen little rest. Both men and women knocked at her door at all hours seeking her wisdom for where to align their loyalties. She could easily see that not all visitors were there with pure motivations, so she spoke with truth but chose her words carefully. She remembered the stories of how Israel struggled when Moses went up Mount Sinai, choosing to worship idols and easily forgetting the God who freed them from slavery. She was not surprised to see this rebellion, only disappointed her people had not learned to stop opposing God’s appointed leaders.
Rumors began circulating that Judah’s army was mobilized and heading into Israel. Surely, King David knew of Sheba’s rising rebellion. She knew this would not be good for her town, for Judah’s army had the favor of God behind it. Sheba and all the men of Israel would be no match for them.
With an unceremoniously loud crash, the army of King David arrived.
Abel-beth-maacah was under attack. A ramp had been placed against the town’s defensive wall and the army was aggressively trying to tear it down. They knew Sheba was here and would stop at nothing to capture him.
“King David’s army is here! What do we do?!”
People of the town burst through her door, unannounced and terrified.
“There’s already been bloodshed outside the wall and it won’t be long before they break through.”
He was a ruthless leader in the king’s army known for sparing no one in his path. He would have no issue taking lives along the road to Sheba.
“It’s Sheba they want,” she responded softly. “Does he have men at the gates prepared to fight?”
“He’s hiding. They all are.”
They will sacrifice us rather than fight the rebellion they’ve started.
“Take me to them,” she said.
She could hear them before she could see them. Their rage broke through the city walls and soon their men would, too.
“JOAB!” She shouted. Her voice carried, but not enough to stop their efforts. “JOAB!” she shouted again. They quieted slightly. “Listen to me, Joab. Come over here so I can talk to you.”
A man appeared at the gate. She could see his face through the opening.
“Are you Joab?” she asked.
“I am,” he responded crassly.
“There used to be a saying,” she began. “’If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel,’” she recited. “I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But, you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?”
Joab was taken aback by her boldness. A woman had never spoken so courageously to him before and he could feel the authority within her. She spoke with kindness and truth in the face of adversity. He could sense that she was to be trusted.
“Believe me,” Joab responded. “I don’t want to devour or destroy your town! That’s not my purpose. All I want is a man named Sheba, son of Bicri, from the hill country of Ephraim, who has revolted against King David. If you hand over this man to me, I will leave the town in peace.”
“All right,” she replied, pausing for a moment to think. She knew that Sheba would not come willingly and the words of her husband began to fill her. His stories of war flashed before her mind. “We will throw his head over the wall to you,” she stated plainly.
The confidence in her voice matched the feeling in her spirit.
She had never beheaded a man and had no intentions of doing so today, but she knew the warriors in her town would understand the necessity of this action. Quietly, she gathered those who had recently returned from war. They had seen the strength of Judah’s army and knew better than to oppose such a force. She told them her conversation with Joab at the town wall and they received the wisdom of her plan instantly.
Sheba’s men had done nothing with silence or secrecy since their arrival, so locating him within the town was simple.
The sun was nearing its descent for the day and everyone knew that Joab would not allow this plan to continue through the night. He would want the head of Sheba before the day was through. Quickly, the men of Abel-beth-maacah surrounded Sheba’s hideout and sieged. She waited outside.
Her stomach turned to knots. She knew they were doing what must be done, but any life lost is one to be mourned. Her husband grieved every time he returned from war and she knew sack cloth and ashes were coming soon for her as well.
The task had been completed. Men emerged from the doorway holding the severed head of the man who had brought chaos to their town. She pushed her shoulders back and strengthened her stance.
“Let’s go,” she proclaimed. “Joab is waiting.”
They made their way to the town’s gate. No one spoke a word. Every footstep felt heavier and the distance to the gate seemed longer than she remembered. She glanced behind her and saw the combination of blood and dust on the sandals of those following them. The cold reality of the death in their hands covering their feet.
“JOAB!” She broke the deafening silence with her shout.
“I am here,” he responded expectantly.
Without another word, they hurled the head of Sheba over the gate.
The thump on the other side brought relief to their spirits but a heaviness still lay within them.
The deep bellow of a ram’s horn could suddenly be heard throughout the town and the land surrounding them. The sound of victory and signaling of an armies retreat with just one sound. Joab was calling off the attack and the army of Judah would soon be returning to Jerusalem.
Her words prevented a massacre and kept her town alive.
She knew that God had guided her steps and words in order to spare her town, but still she grieved that life had to be lost at all. Sheba was part of a clan; a mother’s son, a family’s child, a person created in the image of God. No matter his intentions and transgressions, her heart was distressed.
“The Lord has led us to victory today,” she softly spoke as she turned her back to the town’s gate. “Now, let us give this man a proper burial.”
With wisdom and mercy, she led her people to the grieving clan of Sheba.
Inspired by the wise woman found in 2 Samuel 20.